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Thursday, May 23, 2024
Tony Evers
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'He can pass a bill, I’ll veto that bill': Evers says he will not sign legislation cutting diversity programs in state agencies

Gov. Tony Evers criticized Republican-led attempts to weaken DEI programs and applauded a recent court ruling ordering new legislative maps in Wisconsin.

Gov. Tony Evers addressed his unease with the finalized UW System funding deal and praised the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent ruling to strike down Republican-drawn legislative maps in an interview Thursday.  

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has repeatedly sought to eliminate DEI initiatives in Wisconsin. Most recently, he and the UW Board of Regents negotiated a controversial deal in which the UW System will cap new DEI position hires for three years and restructure one-third of DEI positions in exchange for employee pay raises and building projects funding.

Evers — who previously criticized the deal and the decision-making process leading up to it — rebuked Vos’ moves and said he would not sign legislation cutting DEI programs. 

Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in December he wanted a full audit of diversity programs in state agencies by 2025.

“[Vos] will try, and he will be unsuccessful. He can pass a bill, I’ll veto that bill,” Evers told The Daily Cardinal in an interview.

Evers remained committed to protecting DEI initiatives but said the UW System can figure out how to sustain DEI efforts themselves. 

“The UW System is a big, smart group of people. They can figure that out,” Evers said. 

UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin told student media in December the deal will not change the university’s “core values” on diversity.

The DEI positions will change into general student success positions in return for $800 million in pay raises to over 35,000 employees and funding for multiple building projects including a UW-Madison engineering building.

Mnookin and UW System President Jay Rothman said the deal was an imperfect but politically pragmatic decision. However, the deal was widely criticized for being negotiated behind closed doors in a process that did not involve formal engagement with students or staff. 

“Hell no, absolutely not,” Evers said when asked if the negotiation process felt equitable for all participants affected by the deal. 

“To say I was disappointed would be an understatement,” he added. 

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The Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison’s student government, released a statement Dec. 12 arguing the negotiations left students out of the conversation and harmed members of already-underserved marginalized groups.

Several Democratic lawmakers voiced upset they weren’t at the table and found out about the deal at the same time as the public. Evers told the Cardinal he first heard of the negotiations “when they started.” 

“This will come to an end at some point in time, probably after the next presidential election. As far as [DEI] being under attack, that will stop because we’re on the right side of things,” Evers said.

Evers satisfied with new legislative maps, seeks to expand voting spots

Evers applauded the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn current legislative maps ahead of 2024 elections, saying the Republican-drawn lines work for “hardly anybody.”

“We’re a purple state, and we have a legislature that is almost universally vast majority Republican, which tells me that the present system is broken,” Evers said.

The 4-3 ruling ordered new maps be drawn by August 2024 and allows 17 senators in odd-numbered districts to remain in office until their term ends in 2026. 

The liberal justices in the majority said numerous districts include detached enclaves in violation of the state constitution’s mandate. The state constitution says districts must be composed of “contiguous territory,” meaning all parts of a voting district have to physically be in contact. 

The court’s conservative justices argued that the ruling was pre-decided by their liberal colleagues, with Chief Justice Annette Ziegler calling the ruling a partisan “power grab.”

New maps will be drawn by the Legislature and submitted for approval by Evers before returning to the courts. The court will draw remedial maps to be implemented if the Legislature and governor do not agree on new maps. 

“We will have, by the end of this year, [have] maps that look a lot different and a Legislature that is a different makeup,” Evers said. “My goal is to create the opportunity to have as many competitive races as possible and that brings good people to the Legislature.”

Evers also discussed expanding voting access for college students in the 2024 election, saying an increase in campus voting locations would improve youth turnout. 

“We have to have places for people to vote near or on campus,” Evers said. “To me, if the voting places need to be near universities on campus or closer to campus, that’s what we should be focused on.”

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